— Swami Narasimhananda —
It is in the very human nature to strive for excellence. All human pursuits are geared up for attaining excellence. Even an apparently lazy person wants to excel in the pursuit of laziness and goes to great lengths to prove that it is quite possible to live a life without doing any kind of practical work! It is another matter that such a pursuit of excellence in laziness might not be considered exactly as a search for excellence by the majority of the human population. Pursuits of excellence can be various and it is not necessary that all such pursuits are of the same kind or that they bring about good or welfare to society. It is imperative to gauge any search for excellence. There definitely should be some method for assessing whether excellence has been achieved and if so, to what extent. It is this assessment of excellence that needs looking into. Going by the popular notion, excellence is usually gauged by the number of people, who appreciate what has been done. For instance, if a piece of literature has to be considered excellent, it should have many readers. This is the popular notion. But, is this way of deciding excellence correct? Is it even possible to gauge excellence in this manner? This is a question we need to ask, particularly in the present time, when the Internet and its associated technologies, platforms, and communities are seriously shaping the public discourse about practically everything. What is excellence? By definition, excellence is that state where an accomplishment attains level that is unmatched or has few matches in the world. If a person has excelled in music, it would mean that such person can produce different variations of musical notes in a melody and tempo that has some novelty and takes the listener to newer dimensions of music. That would be excellence in music.
Now, who can understand this excellence? Of course, only a person who understands the nuances and intricacies of fine variations in musical notes, melody, and tempo. Such a connoisseur need not be oneself adept in producing music, but should have an appreciation of music. And, how many such persons do we usually encounter in our daily lives? Very few, if at all. No wonder then, that classical music forms like Western classical, jazz, Hindustani classical, and Carnatic classical, have less performers and connoisseurs compared to other forms of music like rock, pop, and film music. It would obviously be logical then to conclude that it is difficult to understand finery and excellence in any discipline of human pursuit. However, a change in the basic psyche of the human beings, brought about by various changes in societies across the world, has reduced the emphasis on this obvious conclusion. We live today in a market-driven economy across the world irrespective of the apparent political or social ideologies that any nation might profess. The customer or the end-user is the ruler. For example, suppose you buy an e-book and start reading it on your e-book reader. You will see that many portions of the text have dotted lines below them with the count of people, who have emphasised or taken note of that part of the text. Understandably, you would be intrigued to read those words and most likely, emphasise or highlight them. Here, your reading style and thinking has been influenced by what has happened to the readers before you. Your thoughts and perspectives might not have made you focus on those words if you were not induced to do so by a previous emphasis on which you had not control. And for all we know, it could be just a snowballing of the emphasis of a casual or first-time reader, who was the first person to emphasise those words. But now, there would be statistics to prove that those words have been read by millions of people across the world, and suddenly a not so insightful, or maybe even outright meaningless, statement of the author, becomes a legendary fragment of literature!
We humans need to focus on the essence of
being humans, beyond the mundane.
This is the danger of considering numbers to be the only parameter of excellence. Recent times have seen the proliferation of mediocre or poor quality in works of music, theatre, writing, research, education, leadership, statesmanship, and many other disciplines of human endeavour. This is primarily because of the newfound human obsession with things that go viral. We lose sight of propriety, human welfare, goodness, morality, and all other values that human societies have cherished for long in our race to get more followers or to follow something that is trending. Human history shows that all discoveries, inventions, revolutions, and new ideas had to start a lone journey, be established, and finally get appreciation from human beings. Just because nuclear physics or string theory is not popular does not in any way reduce their importance in achieving newer heights of human excellence. Any fine human undertaking like the pursuit of philosophy, scientific research, or spiritual life will have very few takers and few followers. But, the very humaneness of the human beings is determined by these pursuits and not by just running after the primal needs of food, shelter, clothing, and procreation, that human beings share with the other living beings. Just as even if only one good fruit is produced by a tree, it shows the possibility of the tree producing good fruits, similarly even if one sublime or spiritual thought has been produced by the human beings, it shows the possibility that they can produce or conceive of such high thoughts, and such pursuits should continue as long as human beings exist. The obsession with numbers is another manifestation of the obsession with utility. Every thought need not have a practical or utilitarian value. Attaching importance to numbers makes everything in human life bereft of sublimity and love.
In the present times, when the pace of technology taking over all analytical human pursuits has reached astronomical levels, we humans need to focus on the essence of being humans, the ability to look beyond the necessary and mundane, towards that which is beyond the existential. Only such a focus can retain the humaneness in the humans, else we would be competing with our own creations, the automatons, and become irrelevant in the process. We should refrain from being passive members of a crowd of fools. We need to create towering personalities that go beyond the grasp of these foolish crowds. We need to set standards that others follow. We need to bring innovations and improve the thresholds of human satisfaction. Being content with the mundane and the existing, the as is and where is, being stuck up in the status quo is only a sign of a closed and degenerating system. Sheep move in flocks; the lion walks alone. Sheep blindly follow; the lion rules. We should be lions, not sheep. Flies do not select their seat or food and cause diseases; honeybees are very selective and cause pollination, giving us flowers and fruits. Whether we should follow the flies or the honeybees is a decision we need to urgently make with complete wisdom.